It’s the kind of thing that breaks your heart, when regulation gets in the way of innovation so early. Last week, the French court ruled in favor of the CNOP (Conseil National de l’Ordes des Pharmaciens), an association representing the interests of pharmacies in France, in a case against 1001Pharmacies.com, claiming the company was illegally operating its delivery service of pharmaceutical goods.
While 1001Pharmacies can still offer non-prescription pharmacy goods (skin creams, shampoos, etc.), the real advantage of 1001Pharmacies was that it had positioned itself not as a prescription eCommerce website, but, like Uber and Airbnb, a marketplace that allowed its 580 partner pharmacies to connect with clients online in order to fulfill prescription orders, subsequently delivering the prescription for just 5€ to your door.
Concretely, the case argued that the delivery service, their lack of regional authorization by the health authorities, and their lack of physical presence meant that they were illegally operating; however, as the cofounders state in their interview on Maddyness this week, their goal was not to be an eMerchant of prescription goods, but simply to transfer the ‘mandat d’achat’ to a delivery person – that is, to enable consumers to authorize a delivery person to pick up their prescription goods for them (something that is entirely legal in France).
Earlier this year the US Supreme Court overturned a local court decision which ultimately shut down Aereo – a satellite TV startup which uses dime-sized antennas and cloud-based technology to transmit content to consumers. Aereo parent company IAC also operates Tinder, Match.com & Meetic.
More unfortunate is that 1001Pharmacies raised $2 Million earlier this year, after raising a 600K€ angel round last year. The latest round included BPIFrance, the government-run VC fund, among its investors. You would think that if 1001Pharmacies passed the due diligence process for BPIFrance, that they wouldn’t be getting clamped down on so quickly afterwards.
Only time will tell if 1001Pharmacies can manage to overturn the decision or alter their product in order to fit the needs of CNOP – 1001Pharmacies is pushing into a very regulated market, and their success would mean huge waves in the eHealth space. I hope there is a light at the end of this tunnel.